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A few words about Greece:
Greece (ΕΛΛΑΔΑ in Greek), officially called the Hellenic Republic , is a country
in the southeast of Europe on the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula. It has
land boundaries with Bulgaria, the F.Y.R.O.M. and Albania to the north; and
with Turkey to the east. The waters of the Aegean Sea border on Greece to the
east, and those of the Ionian and Mediterranean Seas to the west and south.
Regarded by many as the cradle of Western civilization and the birthplace of
Democracy, Greece has a long and rich history during which its culture has
proven especially influential in Europe, Asia and Africa.
The shores of Greece's Aegean Sea saw the emergence of the first civilizations
in Europe, namely the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations. After these, a Dark
Age followed until around 800 BC, when a new era of Greek civilization
emerged. This Greece of city-states established colonies along the
Mediterranean and partially resisted Persian invasions. Greek culture would
later become the basis of the Hellenistic civilization that followed the
empire of Alexander the Great.
Militarily Greece itself declined to the point that the Romans conquered the
land (168 BC onwards), though Greek culture would in turn conquer Roman life.
Greece became a province of the Roman Empire, but Greek culture would continue
to dominate the eastern Mediterranean and when the Empire finally split in two
the Eastern or Byzantine Empire, centered on Constantinople, would remain
Greek in nature, as well as encompassing Greece itself. From the 4th century
to the 15th century the Eastern Roman Empire survived eleven centuries of
attacks from the west and east until Constantinople fell on May 29, 1453 to
the Ottoman Empire. Greece proper had gradually been conquered by the Ottomans
during the 15th century.
When the Ottomans arrived, two Greek migrations occurred. The first migration
entailed the Greek intelligentsia migrating to Western Europe and influencing
the advent of the Renaissance. The second migration entailed Greeks leaving
the plains of the Greek peninsula and resettling in the mountains. Greece
being mostly mountainous, the Ottomans could not conquer the entire Greek
peninsula since they did not create either a military or administrative
presence in the mountains. There existed many Greek mountain clans all across
the peninsula and islands. The Sphakiots of Crete, the Souliots (or Souli) of
Epirus, and the Mani (or Maniots) of Peloponnesus were the most resilient
mountain clans throughout the Ottoman Empire. By the end of the 16th century
up until the 17th century, many Greeks began to migrate from the mountains to
the plains. The millet system contributed to the ethnic cohesion of Orthodox
Greeks by segregating the various peoples within the Ottoman Empire based on
religion. The Greek Orthodox Church, an ethno-religious institution, helped
the Greeks from all geographical areas of the peninsula (i.e. mountains,
plains, and islands) to preserve their ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and
racial heritage during the harsh years of Ottoman rule. The Greeks living in
the plains during Ottoman occupation were either Christians who dealt with the
burdens of foreign rule or Crypto-Christians (Greek Muslims who were secret
practitioners of the Greek Orthodox faith). Many Greeks became
Crypto-Christians in order to avoid heavy taxes and at the same time express
their identity by maintaining their secret ties to the Greek Orthodox Church.
However, Greeks who converted to Islam and were not Crypto-Christians were
deemed Turks in the eyes of all Orthodox Greeks.
The Ottomans ruled Greece until the early 19th century. In 1821, the Greeks
rebelled and declared their independence, but did not succeed in winning it
until 1829. The elites of powerful European nations saw the war of Greek
independence, with its accounts of Turkish atrocities, in a romantic light
(see, for example, the 1824 painting Massacre of Chios by Eugene Delacroix).
Scores of non-Greeks volunteered to fight for the cause--including, for
example Lord Byron--and indeed at times the Ottomans seemed on the point of
almost entirely suppressing the Greek revolution but for the threatened direct
military intervention of France, England or Russia. The Russian minister for
foreign affairs, Ioannis Kapodistrias, himself a Greek, returned home as
President of the new Republic following Greek independence. That republic
disappeared when a few years later Western powers helped turn Greece into a
monarchy, the first king coming from Bavaria and the second from Denmark.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, in a series of wars with the
Ottomans, Greece sought to enlarge its boundaries to include the ethnic Greek
population of the Ottoman Empire, slowly growing in territory and population
until it reached its present configuration in 1947. In World War I, Greece
sided with the entente powers against Turkey and the other Central Powers. In
the war's aftermath, the Great Powers awarded parts of Asia Minor to Greece,
including the city of Smyrna (known as Izmir today) which had a large Greek
population. At that time, however, the Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa
Kemal Ataturk, overthrew the Ottoman government, organized a military assault
on the Greek troops, and defeated them. Immediately afterwards, hundreds of
thousands of Turks then living in mainland Greek territory left for Turkey as
an exchange with hundreds of thousands of Greeks living in Turkey.
Despite the country's numerically small and ill-equipped armed forces, Greece
made a decisive contribution to the Allied efforts in World War II. At the
start of the war Greece sided with the Allies and refused to give in to
Italian demands. Italy invaded Greece on 28 October 1940, but Greek troops
repelled the invaders after a bitter struggle. This marked the first Allied
victory in the war. Hitler then reluctantly stepped in, primarily to secure
his strategic southern flank: troops from Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria and Italy
successfully invaded Greece, overcoming Greek, British, Australian and New
However, when the Germans attempted to seize Crete in a massive attack by
paratroops — with the aim of reducing the threat of a counter-offensive by
Allied forces in Egypt — Allied forces, along with Cretan civilians, offered
fierce resistance. Although Crete eventually fell, this delayed German plans
significantly, with the result that the German invasion of the Soviet Union
started fatally close to winter.
During years of Nazi occupation, thousands of Greeks died in direct combat, in
concentration camps or of starvation. The occupiers murdered the greater part
of the Jewish community despite efforts by the Greek Orthodox Church and many
Christian Greeks to shelter Jews. The economy languished. After liberation,
Greece experienced an equally bitter civil war—between communists and
royalists—that lasted until 1949.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Greece continued to develop slowly, initially with the
help of the U.S.A Marshall programme and later with the growth of tourism. In
1967, the military seized power in a coup d'état, overthrew the right-wing
government of Panayiotis Kanellopoulos and established what became known as
the Régime of the Colonels, supported by the U.S.A. In 1973, the régime
abolished the Greek monarchy. In 1974, dictator Papadopoulos denied help to
the USA and as a result the (US/Kissinger) "appointed" a new dictator named
Ioannides. Many hold Ioannides responsible for the coup against President
Makarios of Cyprus -- the coup seen as the pretext for the first wave of the
Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974; see: the 1974 crisis between Greece and
Turkey. The Cyprus events and the outcry following a bloody suppression of
Athens Polytechnic uprising in Athens led to the implosion of the military
régime. A charismatic exiled politician, Konstantinos Karamanlis, returned
from Paris as interim prime minister and later gained re-election for two
further terms at the head of the conservative Nea Dimokratia party. In 1975,
following a referendum to confirm the deposition of King Constantine II, a
democratic republican constitution came into force. Another previously exiled
politician, Andreas Papandreou also returned and founded the socialist PASOK
party, which won the elections in 1981 and dominated the country's political
course for almost two decades.
Since the restoration of democracy, the stability and economic prosperity of
Greece have grown. Greece joined the European Union in 1981 and adopted the
Euro as its currency in 2001. New infrastructure, funds from the EU and
growing revenues from tourism, shipping, services, light industry and the
telecommunications industry have brought Greeks an unprecedented standard of
living. Tensions continue to exist between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus and
the delimitation of borders in the Aegean Sea but relations have considerably
thawed following successive earthquakes - first in Turkey and then in Greece -
and an outpouring of sympathy and generous assistance by ordinary Greeks and
The 2004 Summer Olympics took place in the country of their birth to
widespread praise and satisfaction.
The 1975 constitution includes extensive specific guarantees
of civil liberties and vests the powers of the head of state in an
indirectly-elected president, who is advised by the Council of the Republic on
an ad hoc basis. The Council of the Republic consists of the incumbent Prime
Minister, the leaders of all parliamentary parties, and all former Prime
Ministers that have received a parliamentary vote of confidence (see "dedilomeni"
below) at least once. The Council's advice is not binding.
The prime minister and cabinet play the central role in the political process,
while the president performs some governmental functions in addition to
ceremonial duties. The parliament elects the president for a five-year term
and can be re-elected once.
Greeks elect the 300 members of the country's unicameral parliament (the Vouli
ton Ellinon) by secret ballot for a maximum of four years, but elections can
occur at more frequent intervals. Greece uses a complex reinforced
proportional representation electoral system which discourages splinter
parties and ensures that the party which leads in the national vote will win a
majority of seats. A party must receive 3% of the total national vote to gain
Greek parliamentary politics hinge upon the principle of the "dedilomeni",
i.e. the "declared confidence" of Parliament to the Prime Minister and his/her
administration. This is achieved if Parliament approves a new administration's
political platform by a majority "plus one" (i.e. 151 votes), and is renewed
yearly by voting on the new budget. An administration may label any particular
parliamentary vote a "vote of confidence", and conversely the opposition may
designate any vote as a "vote of reproach". Both are rare occurrences with
usually predictable outcomes as voting outside the party line happens very
The country consists of a large mainland at the southern end
of the Balkans; the Peloponnesus peninsula (separated from the mainland by the
canal of the Isthmus of Corinth); and numerous islands, including Crete,
Rhodes, Euboea and the Dodecanese and Cycladic groups of the Aegean Sea.
Greece has more than 14,880 kilometers of coastline and a land boundary of
About 80% of Greece consists of mountains or hills. Dry and rocky conditions
prevail in much of the country, with only 28% of the land classed as arable.
Western Greece contains lakes and wetlands. Pindus, the central mountain
range, has an average elevation of 2,650 m. Mount Olympus forms the highest
point in Greece at 2,911 m above sea level.
Greece's climate features mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Temperatures
rarely reach extremes, although snowfalls do occur in the mountains and
occasionally even in Athens during the winter.
Seals, sea turtles and other rare marine life live in Greek seas, while
Greece's forests provide a home to Western Europe's last brown bears and lynx.
Greece has a mixed capitalist economy with the public sector
accounting for about half of GDP. Tourism has great importance, providing a
large portion of GDP and foreign exchange earnings. Greece also counts as a
world leader in shipping (first in terms of ownership of boats and third by
flag registration). Greece figures prominently as a major beneficiary of EU
aid, equal to about 2.4% of GNP. The export of manufactured goods, including
telecommunications hardware and software, foodstuffs and fuels accounts for
the rest of Greek income.
The economy has improved steadily over the last few years, as the government
tightened policy in the run-up to Greece's entry into the zone of the EU's
single currency, the euro, on January 1, 2001. Average per capita GDP in 2004
was estimated at $21,300 CIA World Factbook. Greece has an expanding services
sector and telecommunications industry and has become one of the largest
investors in her region. Moreover, Greece now operates as a net importer of
labor and foreign workers (mainly from the Balkans, Eastern Europe, the Middle
East and Pakistan, and equatorial Africa) now account for 10% of the total
Major challenges remaining include the reduction of unemployment and further
restructuring of the economy, including privatizing several state enterprises,
undertaking social security reforms, overhauling the tax system, and
minimizing bureaucratic inefficiencies. Forecasts predicted economic growth of
4 - 4.5 % in 2004. Reducing the government deficit also remains a major
challenge, as it is currently running at nearly twice the Eurozone target (of
3% of GDP). The new conservative government claimed to Eurostat that the
previous figures supplied, which were the basis of Greek entry into the
Eurozone, were incorrect.
The Bank of Greece, now a subsidiary of the European Central Bank, functions
as the national central bank of Greece; distinguish this from the "National
Bank of Greece", a commercial bank.
According to the 2001 census, Greece had a population of
10,964,020. Of those, 58.8% lived in urban areas, whereas only 28.4% lived in
rural areas. The population of the two largest cities in Greece, Athens and
Thessaloniki, reached almost 4 million. Although the population of Greece
continues to grow, Greece faces a serious demographic problem: for the first
time in 2002 the number of deaths surpassed the number of births.
A large number of immigrants live in Greece today, estimated at over one
million. About 65% have come from Albania, and large-scale Albanian migration
to Greece since the fall of Communism in Albania has become a source of
controversy in Greece, exacerbated by the lack of a coherent government policy
on immigration. A minority of Albanians are regularly implicated in highly
publicized criminal activities and, as a result, Albanians in general are
often stigmatized. The Albanians also occasionally suffer from discrimination
and exploitation in Greece. Nonetheless most Greeks nowadays recognize their
contribution to the Greek economy. Several prominent Greek sportsmen
immigrated to Greece as ethnic Greeks from Albania or Georgia in the 1990s.
Smaller numbers of immigrants came from Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, Pakistan,
Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Egypt, Palestine, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China and
Georgia, Russia. The exact number remains unknown, since the majority live
illegally in Greece. As a result of the illegal immigrants residing in Greece,
Greek xenophobia/racism has risen significantly. Currently, right-wing
nationalist political forces call for the expulsion of all illegal immigrants
and the strengthening of Greek borders.
Greece has traditionally had various, if not numerous, linguistic and cultural
minorities. A non-comprehensive list of these would include Pomaks, various
Roma groups, Turkish-speakers, Slavs, Vlachs and Arvanites. Numerous religious
minorities exist: Muslims form the largest such minority. One minority
possesses special rights (deriving mainly from the Treaty of Lausanne): the
Muslim minority of Thrace.
Greece, before the Ottoman rule, was part of the Eastern Roman
Empire or as it is commonly known the Byzantine Empire. The civil and
religious capital of the Roman Empire was moved to New Rome or Constantinople
(modern day Istanbul) by Constantine the Great. From this time onwards the
Orthodox Christian faith has flourished and spread throughout Europe. Even
under Turkish rule and repeated attempts at being proselytized firstly by the
Jesuits and then by the Protestants, Orthodox Christianity survived and
The role of the Orthodox Church in maintaining Greek ethnic and cultural
identity during the 400 years of Ottoman rule, has strengthened the bond
between religion and government. Most Greeks, even those who are not Christian
or religious in any way, revere and respect the Orthodox Christian faith,
attend Church and Major Feast days, and understand Greek Orthodoxy as their
Reflecting this, the Greek Constitution on the one hand guarantees absolute
freedom of religion while, on the other hand, it defines the "prevailing
religion" of Greece as the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ. In practice, the
Orthodox Church as well as the secular state approve jointly any activities
related to the building of churches; priests receive state salaries; and the
President of the Republic takes an oath on the Bible.
The majority of Greeks (95 to 98%) have at least nominal membership of the
Eastern Orthodox Church, although religious observance has declined in recent
years. Greek Muslims make up about 1.3% of the population, and live mainly in
Thrace. Greece has some Roman Catholics: mainly in the Cyclades islands of
Syros, Paros and Naxos; some Protestants and some Jews, mainly in Thessaloniki.
Some groups in Greece have started an attempt to reconstruct Hellênismos, the
old Greek pagan religion. See also: Greek Orthodox Church.
One small part of Greece, Mount Athos, is required by the constitution to be
governed theocratically (ie. governed by God and his ministers) as a monastic
community and republic. Mount Athos remains as an independent state, yet is
under the Patriarchate of Constantinople and is therefore in communion with
all the monasteries on Mount Athos and with the Orthodox Church based in
Only one monastery has recently broken away and has formed a completely
independent schism on the Holy Mountain -- Esphygmenou Monastery. Esphygmenou
is composed of 117 Zealot monks who stubbornly oppose the head of the Church
and do not commemorate him any more. They believe that they are the last
remaining true Christians in the world and that Orthodoxy has been corrupted
by having dialogue with other faiths and object to the lifting of the
anathemas against the Roman catholic Church in the 1960's by Patriarch
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